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Sally Mann, Untitled from the At Twelve series
Sally Mann, Untitled from the At Twelve series, “Jenny and Leslie, 8 Months Pregnant”, (1983-1985)

These artworks celebrate the complex joy of motherhood

This Mother’s Day, here’s some of the greatest art and photography paying homage to the maternal experience

To mark Mother‘s Day, we’ve gathered together the best art and photography that pays homage to the matriarchy. These artworks engage with the maternal experience in all its rich complexity – whether it be tackling the exhilarating crisis that is motherhood, representations of pregnancy and the female body, the experience of being a genderqueer child, the taboo issues that affect new mums, and the importance of the maternal relationships in your life (in all forms that dynamic can and does take). We invite you to take a moment to be grateful for the matriarchs in your life by exploring motherhood from these differing perspective.

Sorry I Gave Birth I Disappeared But Now I’m Back by Andi Gáldi Vinkó

Andi Gáldi Vinkó’s dreamy, funny, and unflinching photographs of motherhood manage to distil the wonder and joy of having a baby while acknowledging the ways in which the experience can also register as a trauma for the mother. Sorry I Gave Birth I Disappeared But Now I’m Back is a loving yet irreverent look at Gáldi Vinkó’s journey of becoming a mum whilst attempting to retain her identity and “stay mysterious”,  all the while being subjected to the demands, constraints, and bodily indignities that having a baby entails. “ I keep repeating to myself that I did not cease existing,” she told Dazed in 2020. “I have just stopped being for a while.”

Trisha by Vivek Shraya

Vivek Shraya’s mother prayed to god for sons so she might spare her children the misogyny so manifest in the world around her. Her wish was granted and, decades later, Shraya paid homage to her by recreating her old portraits whilst chronicling her own transition.

Trisha is the hugely emotive series of images, which takes its title from the name Shraya would‘ve been called, had she been born a girl. Rich in all the complexities of the mother and son relationship, Trisha also articulates the process of adjustment –Shraya’s transition of gender and her mother’s cultural assimilation from India to Canada, all those years ago. 

Shraya‘s portraits allow her the opportunity to restore her mother‘s lost girlhood. In the accompanying essay, she writes, “I remember finding these photos of you three years ago and being astonished, even hurt, by your joyfulness, your playfulness. I wish I had known this side of you, before Canada, marriage, and motherhood stripped it from you, and us.”

Milk Debt by Patty Chang

“It is the only time a human is able to produce food for another animal, like a fruiting tree”, says Patty Chang, describing the phenomenon of breast-feeding. “It is when a human is closest to crossing over to being another organism. It’s a reminder of not being separate from other humans or organisms.” Her installation, Milk Debt, juxtaposes films of lactating women with lists created by various individuals who itemised their most recurring anxieties – from fears about climate change and cancer to worries about embarrassing moments during sex. The potency of breast milk as a liquid suffused with the hormones of bonding and love, combined with the experience of hearing your private fears voiced by strangers is an exercise in togetherness, bridging the gulfs that exist between us by reminding us how universal our concerns are. 

The artwork takes its name from a tenet in Chinese Buddhism, which states that a mother should be recompensed in the afterlife for the production of her life-giving breast milk. ”I believe that the act of producing breast milk and lactation is an empathetic act,” she says. “Biologically, breast milk is created when the body starts to produce the hormones of prolactin and oxytocin. Oxytocin is a hormone that is produced when someone is in love. The act of producing breast milk allows the woman to engage in this state of being, which some might describe as being more connected, being more open and accepting, and not thinking of oneself first.”

Artists Depicting Pregnancy

These artworks challenge persistent mythologies surrounding pregnancy and the female body, tackling the ongoing cultural struggle to reconcile female sexual agency with maternity. With candid honesty, these works by women including Nan Goldin, Beyoncé, Sally Mann, and Alice Neel attempt to represent pregnancy stripped of the usual delicacy with which it has historically been depicted by male artists.

“Until reclamations of the female body during second-wave feminism in the 1960s and 1970s, honest representations of pregnancy were scarce in the visual arts,” Lydia Figes wrote for Dazed in 2020. “Due to the entrenched conflations of sex and sin in the Christian tradition, visual incarnations of the pregnant female body were somewhat of a taboo. We know male artists often omitted signs of pregnancy entirely, for example, Joshua Reynolds when painting the portrait of Theresa Parker in 1787.”

I Didn’t Want To Be a Mum by Sophie Ebrard

“When I became a mum, it was pretty much a slap in the face,” says photographer Sophie Ebrard. “I wanted ten more years to enjoy my life the way it was. I didn’t want children to disrupt this beautiful path I was on. I was determined that motherhood would not own me, or ruin me. I fought against its uncool image. I had just been shooting my best personal work on porn sets, how could I now push around a pram?”

Her project I Didn’t Want To Be a Mum tackles the taboo of ambivalent conception. Exploring the loss of selfhood she experienced when she first became a mother, Ebrard searched for a new identity that could contain all of the profound responsibilities and the radical transformations this new existence entailed, whilst still recognising herself within the tumult. “I experienced loss for the woman that I had been and uncertainty about the woman that I would become,” she recalls. “This in-between space left me feeling vulnerable and quite different from the brave, risk-taking, task-initiating, world-travelling, independent, and professional woman that I had been before giving birth.”

Above all else, I Didn’t Want To Be a Mum is a brave and compassionate affirmation of a woman’s ability and right to mourn aspects of their single life, whilst still being able to wholeheartedly love their children. She says, “I hope that starting an honest dialogue free from guilt or judgment will benefit future mothers.”

Mother’s Day with drag mothers and drag kids 

Whether the relationship with our mother is biological, adopted, chosen, or any other form of maternal connection, it is one of the formative forces in our lives. To celebrate Mother’s Day in 2020, Dazed gathered together drag mothers, sisters, and chosen families to celebrate the matriarchy in all its glory. 

Fabulous queens Lagoon Femshayma, Ore-Ho, Petite Lamé, Hermione, Shea Khan, and Mahatma Khandi were invited to each share their stories about their own seminal drag relationships and how these significant figures have affected and influenced their craft. Khandi explains, “The importance of drag family – predominantly like a drag queer family to me – is ensuring that you share your knowledge and share the past, and look out for the future for these kids out there in these streets.”

Take a look at the gallery and short film below for our Drag Mother‘s Day message and family portraits.